One of the best things about being a Phillies fan over the last decade or so was having the opportunity to witness the team evolve from a perpetually bad laughing stock into a legitimate powerhouse, thanks mostly to a core that was completely home-grown.
Thanks to the likes of Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and a host of other great players, the Phillies found themselves at the top of the National League East for five straight years. That run came to an end last season, when age, injury, and a surging Washington Nationals team caught up with them.
And with the 2013 season right around the corner, we have to wonder as to whether or not they have another run left in them. If they do, that's great! But if they don't, is it time to start imaging a team without some of the players that have been a part of this momentous run?
That's the basis of a lengthy post by Jonah Keri over at ESPN's Grantland, where the writer goes into what the Phillies may very well have to end up doing if things go south this season:
This is the dilemma the Phillies face heading into the 2013 season. They've already turned over more than half the lineup, handing starting roles to much younger players. But none of those players are premium prospects. Moreover, the team's trio of infield stars, the ones who've been the face of Phillies baseball for nearly a decade, are still around, fighting injuries and Father Time as they desperately try to keep the Phillies relevant in a division that's left them behind. Then you've got the starting rotation's three aces and the fire-breathing closer, all making big bucks, all hugely attractive gets for many other teams were they to become available. Four months from now, if Philly appears on its way to another mediocre season, should the team cash in their biggest trade chips for younger players who could help build a winning team for 2014 and beyond?
Maybe the bigger question is this: If the Phillies do reach that point, could they go through with it — tearing down the most dominant collection of players the team has seen in 30-plus years?
It's a pretty good read, but Keri paints a pretty accurate picture of the predicament that the Phillies find themselves in. They're not getting old; they're already there. If they want to experience another sustained run of success like the one from 2007-2011, then they best get to it, because things aren't going to get any easier.
The thing about that piece is that Keri isn't necessarily wrong. The Phillies, as good as they have been, are like that 2001 Honda Civic with 200,000 miles on it. It was a great car for a long time, but it's well past its prime, and as much as you don't want to, it's time to trade it while it has some value left in it. Such is the case with the 2013 Phillies.
That's not to suggest that the Phillies have to give up the ship because the fact remains that they could very well be competitive this season. If everything goes right, then they likely finish above .500. Whether or not that's enough to get back to October is another question entirely.
But if they find themselves out of the race in July, then selling off the team would be the best possible outcome. Like Keri mentions, they have a lot of value in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Jonathan Papelbon. Between those five players, they could get a nice haul of prospects in return without having to cover a ton of salary.
It would be unpleasant because there is so much more than money tied up in those players, but if it means rebuilding a franchise whose farm system has been ravaged over the past four seasons, then it's well worth it. A series of trades is one of the reasons that the Phillies find themselves where they are, so they might as well make a series of trades to get themselves out of it.
It wouldn't be an immediate fix, of course, because building a good team takes time, but a handful of good trades and a thorough slashing of payroll could go a long way towards putting you back in a position where you can be competitive without being handcuffed by several players earning top dollar.
That said, I can't even begin to imagine something like this happening in 2013. It would not only take a really lousy first half from the Phillies (that's entirely possible, for what it's worth), but it would also take a significant philosophical change in how the front office and the franchise wishes to run itself. By holding a fire sale of this magnitude – trading Halladay and Utley and Rollins is far more significant than trading Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino – you are sending a clear message to the fans about the state of the team. Not that that's a bad thing, because I'd like to think that most fans would understand the necessity in making moves like that, but that's a bitter pill for a team like the Phillies to swallow when you consider that the franchise has never been as successful as they are at this very moment in terms of how much it's worth.
But if it did happen, I, for one, wouldn't mind it. It would be awful if they shipped out Chase and Jimmy and the rest, but it would be necessary. Part of being a fan is accepting that your favorite players have to move on so that others may take there place. It's a cycle, and it's one that's been going on for as long as baseball has been a sport.
For now, I'll be content to enjoy Spring Training with the hopes that they can all stay healthy and that 2013 won't be a total wash. Because that's what is great about baseball: you just never know.